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Calgary to forgive $1.5 million in excessive water bills in 2019 budget

Rate setting will look at a number of factors for 2019 to 2022, including the city's choice to excuse an estimated $1.5 million in unexpectedly high water bills

Calgary's water bill issues will be part of City of Calgary discussions for the next budget cycle.

Metro Creative Graphics Photo / Hutton, Richard

Calgary's water bill issues will be part of City of Calgary discussions for the next budget cycle.

Costs for leaky toilets and mysterious water usage won't show up as a separate line item on your next ENMAX bill, but a program to help forgive an estimated $1.5 million in citizen's water bills may impact the H2O cost for all in 2019.

On Monday, councillors voted on administration's recommendations to investigate options for billing appeals, incorporate the financial impacts of the billing adjustments to the 2019 to 2022 utility rates and bring ideas on a low-income billing program to the next budget.

This comes after several Calgarians complained about sky-high water bills, the city came up with a policy and agreed to reimburse customers who paid more than three times their typical bills.

The city paid out $947,000 to customers who raised concerns between April 2016 and Dec. 2017. In 2018, the city estimates that number will climb to $1.5 million.

City of Calgary Water Resources Director Rob Spackman said if the cost of forgiven bills sits at $1.5 million, it equates to 30 to 40 cents per customer per bill – but that doesn't necessarily mean rates will go up by that amount.

"There's a lot of things that go into rate setting," Spackman said. "Rate setting is a very complex process, this $1.5 million dollars will be just one part of what we consider going forward in 2019 to 2022."

He clarified with use of cost cutting exercises that amount of cash could be absorbed into the utility provider's current budget. But rate setting integrates factors, including capital costs and the city's different financial policies that need to be met. He said this cost won't be reflected as a separate line item.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said utility costs have been frozen for a number of years, so they're set to go up.

"Bills will likely go up regardless," said Naheed Nenshi. "The cost of water servicing is going up a little bit ... but it won't be because of this."

Councillors defended the city's water meters and their ability to accurately gauge how much water citizens are consuming after an independent report found none of the summer water bills in question were caused by meter errors, despite some public statements to the contrary.

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